Category Archives: Music

Among Other Foolish Things

 

This was a day when we saw Sammy Llanas  and I have a more in depth post about that.  I’ll wait.

This was a very focused day.  It was Brain Fallon, leader of the Gaslight Anthem on a tour for his solo album, Sammy Llanas, and Trapper Schoepp and the Shades.

During the course of the day, we managed to sneak up to front row seats, and were promptly insulted by a neighbor for ‘not liking this music’ because we objected to her drunken splattering all over every neighboring person.

BUT HERE. Brian Fallon was great.  Sammy was great (see link above) and Trapper Schoepp was pretty damn awesome.  It was a lovely day of of good, straightforward rock and roll.  I loved all of it.  We made friends with the people next to us, and gave up our spaces when we left — Ray LaMontagne was next.

After all that, we were satisfied, and left bearer the headliners.  Knowing when to leave is an art…


Reason To Be

2016.1

Whoof.  It’s been quite a year.  Much time working on lifestyle changes, more exercise, better food, moderation moderation moderation and an entertaining new regimen of medications.

My standard line is that last year was the first time in decades (i haven’t kept track) that I haven’t been at Summerfest Opening Day.  So walking through that gate was…victory.  Also was my first (new) birthday…I don’t care what people say; when I was sitting in the ER with like seven people working on me and I still couldn’t breathe, I figured it was all over.  Even the ER doc said in his report he could see me stopping breathing….

But after all that, my docs kept me an extra day so they could fuck up my internals one more time, because hey! his wife has great insurance!  And so they let me out late on Wednesday and frankly, I was in no condition to go own to the Fest.  However, after a bit of rest at home, the next day was a go…

Anyway.  I returned to form to go down for lunch, albeit late.  We wandered the grounds for some time, making a couple of trips from one end to the other.  The Rebel Stage was visited.  We chatted with Unexpected Friends.

But you know, the big deal was Weird Al.  I really expected Weird Al to be WAY more packed.  But it wasn’t, and did we care?  Fucking bogroll we did. I love Al, not just because he is an architect who found a better career but also that he has an amazing band that he has been with pretty much since the first day he recorded a song in Dr. Demento’s toilet…

That lunatic wandered through the crowd while doing his parody of Happy, and from then on he did a dizzying mix of old and new, changing costumes more than Bette Midler in her fever dreams, and backed up by one of the best bands I have ever seen (and I have seen a few).  The bumper videos show his ability as a comedic actor, and I kind of LIVE for his accordion solos.

But in the end, a Weird Al show is nothing but fun.  For his first gig at Summerfest, he dodged the driver at the airport, found his own way to the grounds, then climbed over the fence and got pinched by the Red Shirts.  We saw him one time on a stormy afternoon when every other stage was closed, but this one was left, because it was protected from lightning by the freeway above, and when the event people told him he didn’t have to go on, he gestured toward us drenched drunks and said, how can I not?

He played so much I loved, and I only missed “Weasel Stomping Day”  But then, as a zombie, I would…

Gosh, what do you want from me?  I spent the afternoon and night on the grounds of my favorite location on the planet, and we had some beers and food that makes our doctors quiver; but we spent our time enjoying ourselves and then seeing our culture’s predominant musical satirist comedian ex-architect.

So, I will leave you with the best Devo song they never wrote:


Good Things

2016.3 / 2016.5

I moved to Milwaukee in late 1983, and after a few months finding my feet in an urban environment, started getting into the local music scene, which was amazing at the time.  And in 1986, in the last gasp of what was called the Clamshell at Summerfest, clamshell.jpg there was an epochal local bill:  R&B Cadets, the Bodeans, and the Violent Femmes.  On a night after the previous days rain, so it was muddy as fuck. (coincidentally, as I write this, it is raining)  And really, the night was as awesome as fuck.  Every one of those bands was at the height of their young, spit-filled hormonal young power.  It was what was considered the Main Stage at Summerfest at the time, and it was a display of the great music that was percolating in the city at the time, and it was amazing and we had a stellar, muddy, drunken time. My!  Didn’t we just!

At this point, I want to step back a bit.In 1985 or so, my roommate took me to a dive near the River to see “Da BoDeans” in a small sweaty room with like 20 other people.  They did not yet have a bass player, but the feral, vital songs and the interplay between Kurt and Sammy’s vocals was already amazing, even in that environment. The amazing chemistry was there.  The amazing songwriting was there.  It was raw (LOL. Like I find that as a problem) but man, it was hot and sweaty and so rock and roll that it hurt.  I have been a fan ever since, and we have seen the BoDeans in so many different places, and different incarnations; I saw them as a duo playing as He&He in an East Side Bar.  We’ve seen them at the Marcus Amphitheater, as massive rock stars.  The Bodeans are always a good show…

And then, they had what seems to be an irreconcilable separation between Sammy and Kurt, the primary members of the BoDeans.

So on Friday, the 3rd day of Summerfest, we saw Sammy Llanas playing in a sweet spot between Brian Fallon (of the Gaslight Anthem) and Trapper Schoepp.

I will confess up front that since the first days of the band, I preferred Sammy’s vocals – the raw, unprocessed and emotional aspects of it.In fact, when the first album came out, there was much discussion about how much we disliked that his voice was mixed down…funny, in retrospect.

Another personal note.  A few years ago, we went to the Zoo for A La Carte, and the BoDeans were supposed to play.  But Sammy had dropped the bomb on Kurt like three days before, so he did the best he could with the band he could drum up….

So, it was mordantly amusing and more than a bit weird that we saw both primary members of the BoDeans were playing at Summerfest this year, on different days.  And it deserves a Delicious or Disgusting  dammit sorry, 3Bulls leaking through to reality-  but a review that compares them.

Sammy had a small, stripped down and pretty great band.  His voice was great.he worked hard.  He played a couple of his solo songs, but mainly focused on the songs he did with the Bodeans band. but man, was he good.  His voice was a bit lower than in the day, but it served the songs well.  And although I did not miss Kurt on “Naked” (more on that later) I felt the biggest lack of another vocals was during “Still The Night”

Kurt retained the name, and the Bodeans show was much bigger,  on a bigger stage, with bigger lights, a bigger band, better sound, and much more production.  But then, I always though Kurt wanted to be Bruce Springsteen…

The sound for the ‘official’ Bodeans show was great, and the band sound was really awesome.  It was very big. They had Kenny Aronoff on drums, which was a secret weapon.  I kind of hated the fact that Kurt played guitar with his fingernails, rather than a pick; I have done that and  I HATE IT.  But his guitar, which I suspect is custom, is gorgeous .  So balance.

In all, both shows featured some really great songs. I figure that it mainly organized itself by whoever wrote whichever song.

And here is what I saw and heard: there was one band that had stellar musicianship and sounded like a star cruiser making liftoff; and there was one that had the songs.

And that the songs, when presented, are much better served by a simpler presentation, with a more straightforward approach.

Man.

I have been a part of the BoDeans life for so long, and they have been a part of my life for since forever.  Let me tell you; when they released their first live album “Joe Dirt Car”, it was named after one of my good friends.

OK, so let’s get down to it.  Kurt’s band was amazing and really well rehearsed and good with what they did.  On the few songs they did that usually had Sammy vocals, they ….well, let’s not say they sucked,, because they didn’t.  But they certainly were…lacking.

Sammy’s set, was, IMHZO, much better, and he was able to deal with the lack of Kurt’s vocals.  I need to say right here that Sammy can pull off ‘Naked’ on his own and Kurt can’t.  But the one I thought was lacking was “Still The Night”.

This, of course, comes down to a personal choice.  With the difference ideas we have about music and our different histories regards to the BoDeans, Wife Sublime and I still both agree that Sammy’s show was better.

If Summerfest ever books them both on different stages at the same time, I will opt for Sammy, no hesitation.

It is truly a real life demonstration of the adage “The whole is greater than the sum of its parts” and regardless of how talented the two are in their own rights, the work they did together was elevated into another realm.

Don’t get me wrong; I really enjoyed both shows.  Nothing to complain about.

But knowing, and having experienced, the history of the Bodeans, I knew at a very basic level that the magic and collaborative spark they had was something special, and it is kind of tragic that they ended in a way that is very difficult to reconcile.  It’s sad for us fans, and it’s sad for them; they were once good friends and great partners.

I will leave you with a song (clearly influenced by their time spent opening for U2) in a local venue and yes, we were there, and yes, this is available as a live release:


Bleed Like Me

Butch Vig must be pissed.

2016.7

It appears that this year’s SummerfestBlog is filled with throwback bullshit.  Maybe it has something to do with dying last year….

Anyway, back in the mid 90’s Butch Vig was suddenly rich and in demand after the success of Nevermind.  So he decided to start a new band that had little to do with grunge, and was more pop, techno, and sequencer driven with his long time collaborators.  When considering vocalists, they decided they wanted a woman in the mold of Patti Smith or Chrissie Hyde, and asked Scot Shirley Manson to audition.  In a common pattern, the first meetings were a debacle…

But they gave it a second and third try, and it started to gel and eventually they released the stellar debut album in 1995.  I loved it from the get-go, and not just because it was local musicians; but the crunch mix of hard-alt and tech beats with exquisitely sampled beats was right in proto-zombie’s wheelhouse.

And, of all things, they stopped at Shank Hall that fall, on the start of their tour.  They wanted to play low-profile shows to try out the material; there was much doubt that they could pull off the tech-heavy sound in a live setting.

And that was a worthy doubt; in Milwaukee, immediately at the start of the first song, one of the sequencers went sideways and they had to start over.  But after that it was pretty damn awesome, although the entire band was visibly uncomfortable and mostly just stood there.

After a great set, they came back out for a couple of encores, and even then the crowd refused to go away.  Eventually the band came back out, and said “we only have one album.  We played it all.  What do you want from us?” and so they played one of the songs over again….

So, all these years later and they have a new album and somehow, they wound up on a Summerfest stage.  Technology has moved very far beyond 1995, and there were no glitches.

I had a lousy vantage point, and the stage was pretty damn packed.  The band expressed their gratitude for the large enthusiastic crowd, and although some of the sports shout-outs smacked of pandering, Shirley at one point talked about how even though she is from Scotland, Wisconsin is like ‘coming home’ and we gave them a homecoming welcome.

The setlist tended toward the moe aggressive songs, and why not?  Shirley was sporting a pale purple dye in her hair, and she twisted it up about halfway through so she could play some guitar.

The band themselves, adding an additional member on bass and guitar, were far different from that initial show all those years ago.  The were dynamic, energetic, and seemed to be kind of having a great time.

After a pretty great set, they left the stage.  The PA started playing regular music and the VariLites were showing their shutdown light signals.  But like that small show 20 years ago, we weren’t going anywhere.  And eventually, the band came back out and admitted that they were not used to doing encores, and had nothing prepared.  So they played an unrehearsed song off the new album, one that was completely inappropriate for a festival: “Our Love Is Doomed”.  And Shirley told us that if they screwed it up, it was our fault for being unreasonable….

Oh.  Yeah.  The Butch Vig thing.  Apparently they were on the West Coast, and had to fly back for the gig.  And apparently Butch hates to fly, so he didn’t come back; they had Morrissey’s drummer fill in.  Shirley said “I am sure Butch is biting his own tail off because he couldn’t be here” and the huge crowd, encore and overall seven tons of fun that we had has got to make him feel like shit for not being there, and really, isn’t that all we want?


Another Day Dead

2016.9

Day nine.  Nine for nine.  I can do the rest of this in my sleep.

Tonight was the official record release party for Whiskey Of The Damned’s new disc, “Bedevil The Railroads”

This article spends some time talking to the leader of the band, and talks about his band and his work in running the Rebel Stage, which is the most consistently entertaining location at Summerfest.  It’s where we saw a traditional Irish band playing versions of pop and rock hits.  It’s where we saw the November Criminals, a polka/hip-hop band.  It’s where I first saw Whiskey of The Damned several years ago.

There wasn’t a lot going on for a Friday; an afternoon Pat McCurdy show, and we’ve seen Pat so many times… and some decent looking Emerging Artists, but we got occupied doing other things, and got down to the Fest a bit before WOTD was scheduled.  The Rebel Stage, as expected, was pretty damn full.  Also, I SUSPECT the band was doing a certain amount of pre-gaming.  Shocking, I know.

This band reminds me of those old days when I moved to Milwaukee, and awesome energetic and amazing bands were playing out everywhere and starting up all the time. Eoin (pronounced owen) is an Irish immigrant from a musical family, and he took guitar lessons from Van Fucking Morrison. He plays punky irish music (or irish punk)

As ever, this band pulls out all the stops whether they are playing for 20 people in a dive or 2000 people on a festival stage.  They love the music more than anything and it comes across in their manic abandon.  They shout, they scream, they sing; they switch instruments and run out into the crowd to play.  They wander through the audience playing half-barrels with drumsticks, and they play instruments while keg-rolling on those barrels.

This gig may have started a little slow or perhaps we only felt that way because it was so packed we couldn’t see the band.  But soon that no longer mattered; especially when Marco, the violin player, jumped up on our table to play a solo.

After that it was balls-to-the-wall and protect the children and faint of heart.  Wait; that was hardly the call, because the emcee, merch dude and band-drink-server was a twelve year old kid and as for the faint of heart?  I was there…

The played well beyond their allotted time, and as Eoin said, “It’s my fucking stage!” and was there anyone who would argue?  There was not, not even the next band.  The entire set was filled with raucous noise, with spit and vigor and joy and abandon and whiskey.  They sold CDs (including to one of my staid architect buddies) and there were two cute young girls who had been wandering around with placards offering the opportunity to pet band member’s beards; when that did not seem to be raising any money, they changed to selling kisses.  THAT seemed to be going better.

At the end of the night, they had rocked the fuck out of us, and Eoin climbed up on the tent and stage dived into the crowd in a rowdy display of enthusiasm and trust:

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It was, overall, a rollicking celebration of music and creativity and energy and community; congratulating the band on their burgeoning success and the increasingly notable levels of this scruffy, non-subsidized local and original music stage at the World’s Largest Music Festival.

On any random day, all else being equal this is the best place to find me.  Plus, the local Lakefront Brewery stand is like a dozen paces from the stage.


Hard to Go Quietly

OK.  I am going to try and power through a few posts, play a little ketchup blogging…fair warning; quality will suffer.  Am only a zombizzle, after all, and one with tired feet.  If you want a refund, contact mikey.

2016.10

The last Saturday.  As I always say, this is a festive, albeit slightly desperate night.  The End of the Fest is in sight, and time runs out.  Tell you what, though; last year, I understood the real meaning of ‘Time Running Out’ and this is nothing.  Nothing….

Here’s another throwback/reminiscence.  Way back, when I moved to Milwaukee and was not even a zombie, I luxuriated, I reveled, I positively debased myself in the local music scene.  There was so much good stuff happening; the Femmes, da BoDeans, R&B Cadets, Those X-Cleavers, so many more I’ve forgotten.  We would go out to see bands every weekend, it seemed.  The City, especially the East Side, was positively throbbing with music.

phew.  I am a bit over-beered tonight.  Not in the sense of being over-served; but since that is the beverage most available at Summerfest, I have had way more beer than I am used to this week.  Time for a bit of the bourbon, to cut the foam.  Excuse me….

In that heady, fervent time, a bunch of kids from Indiana saw the Scene, and decided to move their entire band to Milwaukee to be part of it.  That band was the Squares, and two of the members were Brian and Scott Wooldridge.  They wrote great, earnest, if maybe a bit raw alternative pop-rock hits in the vein of Elvis Costello and the Kinks, and I became a big fan.  Here’s one of their songs from that time:

As kids are wont to do, we all broke up, made new combinations, and moved in and out of different gigs, different relationships.  The Squares broke up and spent time in other bands.  Brian and Scott played out as The Wooldridge Brothers, but eventually Scott moved to Minneapolis, and they both got jobs and moved their lives into other phases.

One of the bands I saw around was an arty alt band called Arms And Legs And Feet, mainly because a friend of mine did stage and sound for them.  That band eventually morphed into Blue in the Face an alt-pop band with a three piece horn section and Joe Vent, one of those Squares.  As I said up above, people move on and the leader of that band, Mike Benign (although his actual name is Mike Stefaniak) eventually broke up the band to have a life and start a family.  But a couple of years ago, with the advances in self-recording, he put together a new venture called the Mike Benign Compulsion, and they played early at 6 PM.  They mine a similar vein that his prior bands did, and you might do far worse for yourself than obtaining some of his tunes…

Mike’s band was good, and good old Joe Vent was on guitar, yet again.  And best?  He brought out Scott Wooldridge and Julie Straczewski-Wooldridge to sing on an excellent song written by Joe Vent and Brian Wooldridge called “I’m Troubled”.  Yes, it is a somewhat incestuous music scene…

Since moving to MPLS, Scott has done a little bit of work with his brother, releasing Days Went Around and gigging infrequently.  But he started writing songs again, and last year they did a Kickstarter to fund Scott’s solo album and a new Wooldridge Brothers album (did I contribute?  What do you think?).  Scott’s excellent solo album was released las year, and he did a fair number of shows in and around Minneapolis and the Midwest as the Scott Wooldridge trio.
perhaps most alarmingly excellent is that the Wooldridges were invited to play at the star-studded Big Star Third tribute show at First Avenue.  As part of that show, they were tapped to play and sing on the Big-Star-adjacent song “I Am The Cosmos” and if you can’t be arsed to go read my Big Damn blogpost about the show, here’s the viddy again:

It was a bit surprising to see the Wooldridge Brothers score an 8 PM slot-opening for Ben Folds, no less.  They had a big band, with another guitarist and a keyboard player and were they good?  You tell me.  They friggin opened with Star Of Desire, a regional hit.  And there was a substantial crowd there to see them.

They played a couple of songs off the soon-to-be-released new album, and a couple of Scott’s solo songs.  Also some well chosen covers; the Kink’s Picturebook and the Band’s The Shape I’m In (although regardless of my demand that they add it to their set, no “I Am The Cosmos”.  They left after a nice 80 minute set.  I went and talked to an Imaginary Digital Friend who has seen more local and punk bands than I have…

After much intervening life, the Wooldridges and many other people from that time are still kicking, and using their hard-won experiences to keep doing what they love.  And I love that they are doing that.  It gives me hope; it renews my determination when it had been flagging the past few weeks.  Time is running out, yes; as it runs out for all of us.  For some it runs out sooner; for me it was a near thing.  But not yet, not yet; and, as ever, I am still looking to music to renew my spark and make me smile.

For a little time, at lest.  And really, what more can you ask?

Thank you, Scott and Brian Wooldridge and the other musicians on stage tonight.   You did your job well and I thank you….

 


Tales From The Bootlegger’s Ball

Well, I know I’ve been AWOL.  So I am going to have to work on the schedule of what I want most to write about, rather than be strictly chronological.   To help, I will use a numerical value to help understand which day of the 11-day Summerfest I am referring to, to wit:

2016.6

Today was a bit hot, and I had work to do, so we got down a bit late; but in plenty of time to catch our first target, local ska stalwarts Max and the Invaders. They’ve been playing in various incarnations around town for 30 years; I’m sure I’ve seen them here and there, because I’ve been seeing live local music since moving to Milwaukee in 1983.

Man, they are fun. Reggae, ska and calypso, with a rocking “O-bla-di” cover.  And they were winging CDs into the crowd, which came in pretty hot but no one was injured.  They also threw monkeys into the crowd during “Monkey Man”.  Here’s my catch, along with my other swag from the night:

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They had a great slot, nearly two hours before local reggae long-timers King Solomon and one of the Marleys was up after that.  King solomon was also really great.

I am not much of a food blogger, but I want to mention that I was a bad bad zombie, and I had something called a Twister Dog. 1/4 lb hot dog wrapped in a spiral cut potato, deep fried and covered with cheese sauce, beer-candied bacon, a jalapeño sauce and a sriracha drizzle.  Fuck YOU, traitorous cardiovascular system!  Messy, yes, but really quite tasty.

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Also, we tried the Deep Fried Brandy Old Fashioned.  Is there anything more Wisconsin than deep frying an after-dinner drink?  the answer is none.  None more Wisconsin.

So after eating that delicious, bad food, and listening to some great reggae, we moved to our favorite place:  The Rebel Stage.  Local music, volunteers, fun and only occasionally some morning puke; right on the lagoon and in some wonderful shade, and directly adjacent to the Lakefront Brewery serving tent.

There was a band called Uncle Ferguss’s Magic Whiskey Band.  They played pop and rock hits as Irish folk reels and jigs and they were GREAT.  Right after we got there, they play “Heroes” then “Hurt” then “Whiskey in the Jar” — the Metallica version.  And they finished with a mashup of Freebird, Carry On Wayward Son, and Come Sail Away.  Fricking GENIUS!

And after that was a Milwaukee Polka/ Hip-Hop band.  Yes, you heard that right.  November Criminals.  This is VERY NEARLY more Milwaukee than the deep-fried Brandy Old Fashioned (see above). I took a video, but FYWP wants me to pay actual cash zombie money to embed upload my own videos, and until y’all start paying for my bloghosting, you’ll have to find it on FaceHell or Twitter. But  They were very very fun, and I responded by buying the new Whiskey of the Damned CD and got some stickers….

We went on to see the Gin Blossoms.  We were supposed to catch up with one of my old college roommates, but he got waylaid by his teen daughters and their friends and he had to hang out in a far less-cool place.  Most hilarious text exchange: “wife couldn’t deal with the crowds, so I am in charge” “LOL. WHAT crowds?  This is an empty night…” “[thumbs down emoji]”

Gin Blossoms were good, as they always are. Two quibbles; the sound guy was fucking up the lead guitar, which was all but inaudible.  And the follow spot guy could not grasp the idea that sometimes you spotlight the guitarist or the drummer or whoever is doing something other than singing.

Yes, I know this is pedestrian and blow-by-blow music wangdoodling.  

But here’s the thing.

This was a Tuesday at Summerfest, the day after the Fourth of July. And after a good day of work, we saw an amazing array of bands.  Mixed genres, genders and races and a lot of fans that did, indeed, look like America.  I had someone apologize for standing in front of me, which is actually their right. We had a few beverages, some pretty good food, and awesome awesome music both local and national (and in some cases, international). I heard some new stuff, and learned some new stuff.

I mean, I fully understand that I am a complete outlier when it comes to loving live music and local music and art and things like that.  But I believe that this festival is something special; 11 days of music and food and sun on the shores of one of the great inland seas; in a moderately sized city that makes tolerance and patience and politeness a standard rather than an anomaly and we all get along in a crowded, noisy, chaotic environment.  As someone (I think it was either Hunter Thompson or P.J. O’Rourke before he got stupid) said, “fun is like a virus; it is spread through human contact”.

I have been to the Fest 6 out of six days in 2016.  After the Event of last year, when my cardiologists saved my life and then made me miss Opening Day for the first time in well over a decade, it feels really good to have my health in some kind of control and to feel good after the halfway point. And I will be going down tomorrow as well.  And, zombie willing, the rest of the days as well…

So tonight, like I said, it was a relatively light attendance.  I would guess 65-70,000 people.  And yes, yes indeed we had a WONDERFUL time.